December 26th-31th, Sprudge.com is revisiting some of our favorite stories from the very exciting past year in coffee. Enjoy!
It’s safe to say that there is no television show quite as polarizing as Girls. HBO’s half-hour dramedy created by Lena Dunham has received critical praise, one Emmy, two Golden Globes, and a Peabody Award, but for every admirer, the show has endured an equally vociferous and enormously well–documented popular backlash. Even at Sprudge, opinion is divided. I’m personally a huge fan of Lena Dunham’s weekly misadventures in kidulthood and see more of her in myself than I probably should. Like everyone I know who fiercely advocates for the show, however, there are some elements that irk me to no end and have me scratching my head saying, “Man, Girls would be perfect if…” Among those things that make my eyes roll into the back of my head is how the show deals with New York coffee.
In the first season of Girls, Hannah (Dunham), an aspiring writer, gets a job at the original Cafe Grumpy in Greenpoint after her parents decide to stop paying her rent. Hannah’s a good writer, but she’s not good at anything else, and she comes to Grumpy after a series of failed jobs and interviews. She gets the job because she knows the manager, Ray (Alex Karpovsky), an irritable musician and PhD dropout. Using the real Greenpoint Grumpy is clearly a bid for New York authenticity, but the writers take quite a few liberties with how the shop is represented. For example, Girls’ Greenpoint Grumpy is never busy, save for the sparse few Central Casting college kids at the communal table on their computers. Ray is an unrealistic manager with poor customer service skills. He’s often seen yelling at employees and customers, fulfilling the incredibly toxic angry barista stereotype.
Ray should be fired, but instead he’s given a promotion at the end of season two. He’ll spend season three opening up a fictional Brooklyn Heights Grumpy, which he will likely continue to call “Grumpy’s”. He will also, I hope, use his manager’s salary to get an apartment, because he spent much of season two homeless. This inaccurately suggests that coffee professionals can’t make a living in New York; they can, barely, and we all live in Brooklyn, but that's kind of the point at this point. I like watching Ray outside of work, but his surly barista act is tired.
Girls is one of the most direct representations of specialty coffee in popular media, but it’s not necessarily the representation we need… yet. Lena Dunham has been receptive to criticism about the show’s shortcomings in representing New York life, and you better believe they'll be back for season three, so we have reason to hope that Ray might evolve into a character who can at least fake it while he’s working. Real-life Grumpy would have fired Ray before the series even began.
Ray’s rough management skills allow Hannah to retain employment despite being a terrible employee with no sense of punctuality or interest in coffee, but ineptness doesn’t stop her from fulfilling one of the ultimate barista dreams: sleeping with the crushtomers. Before I begin on this subject, it’s important to note that Hannah isn’t indulging with regulars; I personally think we can expand the definition of “crushtomer” to fit anyone who comes into the shop at least once. In the first episode of the second season, she pauses while making out with Sandy (Donald Glover) to say, “I'm so glad you accepted that thing I claimed was a macchiato and was actually three kinds of syrup and soda water.” Things don’t work out with Sandy (he’s a Republican and she’s recently broken up with the unstable and infuriating Adam), but their romance, formed in part because of Hannah’s lack of attention to detail at work, sets up an even sexier and more uncomfortable crushtomer interaction.
Girls’ finest half-hour is the fifth episode of season two, “One Man’s Trash”, in which Hannah goes to bed with Joshua (Patrick Wilson), a doctor who lives around the corner from Grumpy. Hannah has been putting the cafe’s garbage in Joshua’s cans because she has lost her dumpster key. Her signature self-deprecating revelation sparks a weekend affair in Joshua’s beautiful apartment. Once again, Hannah’s failure to do her job has resulted in a dalliance with a hot man. The episode faced criticism for being highly unrealistic, but I found that it wasn’t too far off from my friends’ and my own experiences sleeping with crushtomers.
I personally have always kept a crushtomer list, with a constantly changing top three, throughout my time as a working barista. I think all of us have at least one Jordan Catalano-esque Crushtomer #1 whose name we scribble in our notebooks and who we force to stay at the counter a little too long as we forget our commitment to efficient bar flow. I never slept with a number one, but I did sleep with a number three. He was no Patrick Wilson. Instead of a doctor with a huge Greenpoint apartment, he had one of those rich young white man jobs like “Startup Funds Allocator” and his East Village apartment was tiny. Like many of Hannah’s sexcapades, our bedroom fumblings were awkward enough that, fifteen minutes in, it was clear we would never do this again. Then, with our legs going in all sorts of unforgivable directions, his roommate walked in, wanting to chat. She spent a little too long lingering at the door while we scrambled to cover ourselves. When she left, I burst out laughing. He didn’t think it was funny.
See, this may be the only place where Girls gets coffee culture right. Hannah’s sexual encounters with Grumpy customers are brief and, like most people with whom we’ve had bad sex, her crushtomers never show up at the shop again. These bizarre hookups are exactly what the show is about. It’s unfortunate that Hannah only attracts customers who are turned on by what a terrible employee she is. It’s not like she’s working at a generic New York grab-and-go. She’s at Cafe Grumpy, one of the city's most respected shops and roasteries. I’m sure those Grumpy employees get plenty of action because they are confident and good at their jobs. Charming in the face of inadequacy or not, a real Hannah wouldn’t last a week at Grumpy (See here)
As Hannah’s career as a writer continues to flourish, it’s clear we won’t see much more of her at the shop. Ray, on the other hand, seems to be in it for the long run; he desperately needs to lighten up at work and get himself an apartment. Perhaps the best way for Girls to avoid constant Sex and the City comparisons is to indicate that people in their twenties and thirties are living comfortably while working in the service industry in New York, because this is a true and real fact. I also hope that Hannah ends her on-again-off-again romance with Adam and continues to sleep with crushtomers. She could even pull an Erin Meister and marry one.
Eric J. Grimm is a working barista at Everyman Espresso in Manhattan. We made him re-watch every episode of ‘Girls‘ to write this feature, and he loved it.